Monday, June 18, 2007

A Weekend of Kids and One Crazy Encounter

The experiences here never cease - each week brings new opportunities in both ministry and culture. And with each, the friendships I have and those I hold dear here become even more cherished. This weekend was a weekend of children, and one of the best weekends I have had here to date. On Friday, we held a baby shower for Larissa, the wife of one of the Children's Ministry Coordinators at Nadezhda Ukraine (HOPE). Larissa is one of the sweeteest, most endearing women I have ever met. She and Jzenya are expecting their first child - a son - in a little under two weeks.

The shower was one of the sweetest and most entertaining I've been to. We opened with a lunch. Cindy treated the group to burritos. I'm sure it's not surprising to most to learn that Mexican food is a rarity here - many have neither heard of nor tried Mexican foods. So lunch involved a short demonstration by Cindy on how to build and eat a burrito. Most of the women were genuinely interested and somewhat enthralled by this foreign food. To Ashley and I, veteran Mexican food eaters and ardent fans, the entire experience was humorous.

The rest of the shower involved games and a devotional led by Olga. Olga is a dear friend and one of the most constant women of faith I know. Her devotional was about the love of a mother, and how one of the most beautiful things is the mother who prays for the life, future, and ministry of her child. Earlier that day, my sister and I had been talking about that very thing - it was an incredible experience and something that made her feel so close to me at that moment although she is half a world away.

Saturday morning brought an opportunity I have been waiting for for some time. Across the morning, I helped to lead a day camp for youth of the Children's Sanitorium in Zaporozhye. The children at the Sanitorium are very poor and suffer from a number of health and behavioral disorders. They stay at the Sanitorium for periods of two to three months for treatment. While the Sanitorium is not an orphanage, in some ways, it operates as a short-term orphanage for these disadvantaged youth. Love, joy, and acceptance are hard commodities to come by in their lives.
Members of the local church that HOPE partners with have joined together to offer weekend camps with games, crafts, plays, and lessons. Both the children and the adults love and look forward to these camps - it was amazing to be a part of it and I look forward to the camps that remain across the summer. It is an incredible ministry to be a part of - something that brings such joy and satisfaction to all that are involved. The children are so beautiful and good - it is frustrating to think of how easily and often they are otherwise cast aside.

When I returned to the flat from the Sanitorium, I decided to do some laundry. Laundry machines are a luxury here - I know of only two in the city so far. Laundromats are non-existent. By far and wide, laundry is accomplished by hand-washing. Since the days are hot and we spend much of our time walking, we tend to have a lot of laundry to do. So, I decided to give handwashing a try. All was good and well until it came to hanging up the clothes. As rare as laundry machines are in Ukraine, dryers are virtually non-existant. I've not heard of or seen one... and I've been told by many that no one has them. The mode of drying is therefore to hang clothes on lines throughout people's flats and out windows. I started with hanging clothes on the lines in our flats. They are high above our heads, so I used an old wooden footstool beside the lines. The age and structure of the stool left me a bit weary, but it was evidently for hanging clothes, so I decided to take a risk. I was wrong! The stool promptly broke, sending me flying into our marble wall. I sat dazed for a few minutes and decided perhaps drying clothes out the window would be a better route...

About thirty minutes later, a long, furious buzzing came from our doorbell. I had expected Ashley to be returning from a weekend leaders' training, so I thought nothing of it and opened the door. I was met not by Ashley, but by a sturdy and furious bobushka. Chris Horst, HOPE's intern coordinator, had told Ashley and I about an encounter he had with the bobushka living downstairs from us when he stayed in our apartment in early April. The water had overflowed in the apartment, sending her up and into the apartment in a bit of a frenzy. So as she stood there, I thought "... oh... I think I know who you are..." immediately followed by "... what did I do wrong? Paul fixed the drain!" She scolded me for a few minutes in Russian. The only responses I had to offer were "Yanipanyimyu," and "Ez Venieche," which mean "I don't understand you" and "I'm sorry." She quickly pushed past me and into our apartment. At this point, I was a little frightened... this woman was NOT happy and certainly was not to be trifled with. And, it is extremely important to show bobushka's respect as elderly women. They carried the country through the World Wars, when the men were away fighting, and they have seen hardship, poverty, and struggles that we can't begin to imagine. So I figured the best route of action was to allow her the room she needed and wanted to resolve what she was upset about and apologize for how I had offended her.

So it turns out that this bobushka is NOT a fan of water in any respect, whether it be the sound of it running, it dripping into her apartment from an overflow, or it dripping past her porch from above as clothes are drying. She pulled my laundry from the window and pushed it into my arms. At last! The source of this frenzy! She let me have it for another five or ten minutes in the kitchen, started down the hall, turned midway and scolded me again, headed to the door, scolded me again at the door, and then went on her way down the stairs... still scolding me as she marched down the stairs.

The lessons learned?

1. Always check before opening your door!
2. Do NOT trust old wooden stools... especially when they appear questionable.
3. Handwashing laundry is more of a challenge than it seems.
4. And finally... while window drying is commonplace, it will not be occuring in our flat!

I'm content to let it dry over chairs and dressers if it will appease our neighboring bobushka. For now, I'm trying to decide whether chocolates or flowers will smooth over the damage...

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